The NFL season is winding down and as we buckle up for the playoffs there are a few awards that will be given to players at the end of the season. I will try to predict the award winners as we head into week 16 and give other candidates as well.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Chase Young
Going into the draft, Young was widely considered to be the best non-QB on the board. PFF said his 96.5 pass rush grade was the highest grade they’ve ever given to an edge defender. He has lived up to the expectations set for him after being drafted #2 overall by Washington. Let’s take a look at some of the stats he’s compiled this year compared to other rookies.
|Stats||Sacks||Pressures||Tackling Efficiency||Stops||Forced Fumbles|
|Rank||6 (1st)||33 (2nd)||35.0 (5th)||28 (4th overall but 1st among edge rushers)||5 (1st)|
He also has the 10th best pass rush win rate among all edge rushers which is a very impressive feat considering he is a rookie with a shortened offseason. Another impressive thing to know about Young is that he is the player on Washington’s defensive line that gets the most attention. According to Seth Walder, Young is doubled teamed at around a 23% rate, which is higher than his counterpart Montez Sweat. Young’s double team rate is around the same rate as players like Khalil Mack and Brandon Graham. Washington’s defensive line is looking really scary now with 4 first round picks at each position, and all of them under contract for next year.
Honorable mentions: Jeremy Chinn (CAR), Jaylon Johnson (CHI), AJ Terrell (ATL)
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Justin Herbert
This will likely be one of the most controversial debates we will see in the next coming weeks. The award for OROY either goes to Herbert or the Vikings’s Justin Jefferson. I can see a case being made for either one as Jefferson has had a terrific year, but Herbert deserves this award and I’ll tell you why. Herbert was drafted by the Chargers to sit behind journeyman Tyrod Taylor for an entire year, similar to Patrick Mahomes, and become the franchise QB in 2021. Taylor received the majority of the starters snaps in training camp and leading up to Week 1. Due to unforeseen circumstances stemming from a painful rib injection to Taylor, Herbert was thrust into the starting lineup and never looked back. He is on pace to shatter rookie records by the time the season is over. He has already tied Baker Mayfield’s passing TD record of 27, he is averaging the most passing yards per game of any rookie ever, and is doing all of this despite his offensive line having the worst pass block win rate of any team this year. Let’s compare Herbert to other star rookie QBs from previous years.
|QB||Herbert||Kyler (2019)||Baker (2018)||Dak (2016)||RG3 (2012)||Luck (2012)|
|EPA/play + CPOE||0.112||0.056||0.089||0.174||0.148||0.063|
Herbert ranks 3rd as of right now from these 6 QBs in their rookie year. Dak and RG3 both won OROY, and their team made the playoffs, which only helped their case. While Herbert hasn’t been perfect, he has been better than expected in a shortened offseason and the Chargers could easily be in the playoff hunt if it weren’t for coaching miscues from Anthony Lynn and horrible special teams.
Taking a look at this graph made by my colleague Tej Seth, you can see Herbert is among the league’s best QBs when going against top-half defenses in the entire NFL as a rookie. Only MVP candidates Mahomes, Rodgers, and Josh Allen have a higher EPA/dropback against top defenses than Herbert this year.
Now, with this being said, I think Jefferson would win OROY in any other year, but given how Herbert has played it will be hard to overcome unless he shatters Anquan Boldin’s rookie receiving yards record (1,377). Playing QB also gives Herbert a little bit of an edge given the difficulty it takes especially with a shortened offseason. However, I think Jefferson’s greatness should not be understated given that he has practically replaced Stefon Diggs, and been the best rookie WR in this class by a longshot despite being the 5th WR taken in the draft.
Honorable Mentions: Justin Jefferson (MIN), James Robinson (JAC)
Comeback Player of the Year: Alex Smith
This award is hard to predict because the voters vote based on performance as well as the backstory of all the candidates. Alex Smith suffered one of the most gruesome injuries ever, and had a really tough road to recovery. Despite that, he came back and was in the driver’s seat to lead Washington to the playoffs before getting hurt again. That being said, he hasn’t been a very efficient quarterback to be blunt. While his supporting cast only consists of just Terry McLaurin and Logan Thomas to an extent, Smith isn’t the same QB he used to be with the Chiefs. In 2017, Smith had a 0.139 EPA/play + CPOE composite score which was good for 5th in the league at that time.
This year, that number has dropped down to 0.021, which is 32nd in the league of all eligible QBs. Smith’s leg injury has hindered his mobility which means he isn’t capable of avoiding pressure as well. Smith also has a passing grade of 66.6 which is good for 29th in the league, but ultimately, it isn’t Smith’s play that will win him the award. It’s the story behind it and Alex Smith’s story is the best there is given how much he suffered and went through to becoming a starting QB again.
Honorable Mention: Ben Rothlisberger (PIT)
Coach of the Year: Brian Flores
This award either comes down to Brian Flores or Kevin Stefanski. I’ve actually written about both of them. Click here to read about Brian Flores and the Dolphins. Click here to read about how Stefanki has transformed the Browns offense. While both coaches have done exceptional jobs this year, I think Flores has the edge based on how consistent the Dolphins have played this year. Despite the Browns being 10-4, they have a -6 point differential. They have 6 more wins than losses, yet have still allowed 6 more points over the entire season than they have scored. On the flip side, the Dolphins are 10-5 and have a +96 point differential, which is the best in their division alone. The Browns have lost by 10+ three times this year including two 31+ point losses against the Ravens and Steelers. 4 of the 5 losses for the Dolphins have been 1 score games, and they went head to head vs Mahomes and the Chiefs in a shootout where they picked off Mahomes 3 times. These all indicate that the Dolphins have been a much more consistently strong team than the Browns due to Flores’s coaching.Looking at the graph, Flores’s defense is 4th in the league right now in EPA/play allowed and they have the 3rd best Dropback EPA/play allowed. Flores’s man heavy scheme has worked wonders and they are currently riding a 21 game streak in which they have at least 1 takeaway. CB Xavien Howard has shined and is in contention for DPOY which I will get to soon.
Another reason I’m favoring the Dolphins is the success they’ve had in their own division. Despite starting off 0-2, the Dolphins are 3-2 in the division, with 2 of those wins coming with Tua at the helm. Conversely, the Browns are 2-3 in the division with both their wins coming against the lowly Bengals. While they lost on a heartbreaker to the Ravens in the possible Game of the Year, they have not been able to beat the Steelers or the Ravens this year.
Week 17 poses a very interesting scenario. If the Steelers lose to the Colts in Week 16, and the Browns beat the Jets, the Browns vs Steelers matchup in week 17 decides the division winner. If that scenario happens, Stefanski needs to win to have a shot to be Coach of the Year. Otherwise, if the Browns make the playoffs and don’t win the division, I think Flores deserves it based on how well his defense has played and their relative success in the division.
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Stefanski (CLE), Mike Tomlin (PIT), Sean McDermott (BUF)
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald
Another year, another dominant Aaron Donald. It is truly a wonder to watch Donald play week in and week out. The guy has been flat out dominant this year. This year marks the 6th year in a row where Donald has racked up 79+ pressures and 8+ sacks. Since 2016, only Fletcher Cox has had a season with 79+ pressures and 8 sacks. With 1 game left to go, Donald has 93 pressures, and 15 sacks. Although he is an interior rusher, he leads the entire league in pressures and sacks. He ranks first in pass rush win rate for defensive tackles at a 25% rate, forced fumbles, and has recorded 7+ pressures in at least 6 games this year. He also only trails Joey Bosa in pass rush productivity with at least 200 pass rush snaps this year. Donald is a force on the Rams defensive line and is one of the leading reasons that the Rams have the lowest EPA/play allowed in the entire league this year. He has the highest PFF grade of any defender this year at 93.7, as well as the highest pass rush grade of any defensive lineman (DI and edge) this year with a 93.0 grade. Just because Donald has won the award twice, it shouldn’t be held against him. Voters, just give Donald the award.
Honorable Mentions: TJ Watt (PIT), Xavien Howard (MIA), Myles Garrett (CLE)
Offensive Player of the Year: Derrick Henry
Derrick Henry has been as consistent as they come and seems to have never followed the running backs don’t matter movement. He is the centerpiece of one of the best offenses in the NFL. The Titans have the best EPA/play, and the 2nd best rush EPA/play thanks to Derrick Henry. Henry is entering the final week of the year with 1,777 rushing yards which is a huge amount. King Henry has run hard all season long and the stats show it as well. Among all RB’s, Henry is second in tackles broken on runs with 58, second in yards after contact per attempt with 3.85, and leads the league in rushing yards with 1,679 yards this year. Per Next Gen Stats, Henry has faced 8+ defenders in the box at a 30% rate, yet still puts up gaudy numbers week in and week out. On top of that, he averages 0.97 rush yards over expected per attempt which is good for 4th in the league.
The Titans also lost stalwart LT Taylor Lewan to a torn ACL earlier this season, and it hurt their offensive line. This year, the Titans rank 18th in run block win rate, which shows that their offensive line is not as good as other teams at winning their 1 on 1’s in the run game. This was expected especially after Lewan got hurt and their starting RT Jack Conklin left in free agency. Nevertheless, Henry has managed to overcome this to put up an outstanding year rushing the ball. The only thing I can see holding Henry back is his lack of work in the passing game. Traditionally, Henry catches the ball near or behind the line of scrimmage which can be seen as Henry has 114 receiving yards this year, but has 128 YAC. With that being said, Henry has had two 200+ rushing yard games this year, and has never had less than 60 yards in any game this year. He has also been a fantasy beast for his owners, and they have reaped the rewards these last 2 weeks thanks to his monster performances in weeks 14 and 15.
Honorable Mentions: Dalvin Cook (MIN), Travis Kelce (KC), Davante Adams (GB)
Most Valuable Player: Patrick Mahomes
This race is ultimately between Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. Both have played exceptionally this year, and both have teams that could meet in the Super Bowl which would be a very exciting matchup. With that being said, I think Mahomes has done more than Rodgers this year to cement himself as the MVP. PFF’s Mike Renner wrote a very detailed article on the race between Mahomes and Rodgers which you should check out if you have a PFF subscription. While he thinks Rodgers has the edge in his article, there are a few qualities that Mahomes has which gives him the edge over Rodgers.
- Even on his worst days, Mahomes finds a way to win and put up respectable numbers. On Mahomes’s worst day as a passer in week 4 vs the Pats (44.9 PFF grade, -2.4 CPOE) he still managed to throw for 236 yards and 2 TDs. He had a couple of these turnover worthy throws which should’ve been picked off but they weren’t. Yet, he still found a way to win and throw for 2 TDs. He also finished with a 0.333 EPA/play that week which was good for 9th of all QBs in week 4. When he played Denver in the snow in week 7, he only completed 15 passes for 200 yards and 1 TD, and got some help from his defense and special teams. Yet, he didn’t have any turnovers, and had a 5.4 CPOE score that week. What about the week he lost vs the Raiders? Mahomes threw for 340 yards, and had this insane throw to Tyreek Hill that would be in the throw of the year conversation had it not been called back.
- Mahomes manhandled the Bucs while Rodgers struggled. Mahomes and Tyreek Hill shredded the Bucs back in week 12. Tyreek had over 200 receiving yards in the 1st quarter alone, and Mahomes threw for 462 yards and 3 TD’s. Lets stack up Mahomes vs the Bucs and Rodgers vs the Bucs.
|Stats vs Bucs||EPA/play + CPOE composite||PFF Passing grade||Passing yards||Times Pressured|
|Mahomes||0.298 (1st that week)||86.4||462||20|
|Rodgers||-0.037 (2nd to last that week)||45.8||160||21|
As you can see, Mahomes thoroughly had a better game than Rodgers and was able to dominate a top 6 defense this year while Rodgers struggled mightily. I think Rodgers has been able to show a little more consistency this year on a week to week basis, but Mahomes’s high end games have been better than Rodgers, and have come against top tier defenses such as the Ravens and Bucs.
- Mahomes’s dual threat ability is very underrated. I think Mahomes is one of the best scrambling QB’s in the NFL in terms of knowing when to scramble. He doesn’t take off looking to scramble, he’s still looking to throw on the run despite rolling out of the pocket. Mahomes’s speed allows him to pick up chunks of yardage especially on third down, something that Rodgers can’t match at his age. Check out this third and 20 run by Mahomes in week 2 vs the Chargers which saved the Chiefs. Mahomes has scrambled for 6 more first downs than Rodgers, has 163 more rushing yards, and PFF has given Mahomes a 68.6 rushing grade compared to Rodgers’s 59.3 grade. This dual threat ability gives Mahomes a slight edge to Rodgers in terms of who’s more dangerous on the field and who poses a bigger threat as a runner in critical situations.
The MVP race will be very close but I think Mahomes has done enough this year for him to win the MVP award and the only thing stopping him is having 2 awful performances to end the year while Rodgers completely dominates.
DROY: Chase Young
OROY: Justin Herbet
CPOY: Alex Smith
COY: Brian Flores
OPOY: Derrick Henry
DPOY: Aaron Donald
MVP: Patrick Mahomes
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